Title: “Forgiveness - Letting Go”
Today our gospel lesson is about forgiveness. You know, it’s one thing to say “Forgive and Forget” but it is an entirely different bag of worms to actually live it. Nonetheless, our salvation pivots on forgiveness. Our very salvation, pivots on the forgiveness which Christ won for us. It has divine import. But thought we have received forgiveness of God; it is another thing to live it. To live in forgiveness is to mirror that forgiveness to others, to our neighbors. Having said that, mirroring forgiveness to others, i.e. showing forgiveness to those who have hurt me, that’s hard! As I have said in previous sermons God’s goal when dealing with a sinning brother is not just justice, but rather reconciliation. We forgive to bring about reconciliation. Why does God want reconciliation? God wants reconciliation because God wants his children to live in harmony with one another. We are the body of Christ, each of us important to one another. The loss of any one of us, diminishes the whole. God wants reconciliation. The problem is that forgiveness and reconciliation is not easy. But we try anyway… because “what is impossible for Man is possible with God.”
In today’s gospel Peter asks Jesus "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Just so you know, when Peter asks this question, he is expecting praise. He is expecting Jesus to say: “Excellent Peter. what a forgiving and loving person you are. The reason is that according to Jewish law, “If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.” So, when Peter asked if he should forgive up to seven times, that was far more than expected by Jewish law. Surely Jesus would be impressed by him. But then Jesus takes him by surprise and says “You must forgive your brother not just seven times, but 77 times. Yikes! I could just see Peter’s crestfallen face. 77 times? That’s way more than what was required. That’s too much. Who can do that? That’s more than we can do.
And it’s not just about the number. Remember what it means to forgive. To forgive means from here on out, I will treat you as if you did not wrong me. From here on out, I will let go of my hurt and anger. I will let go of my desire for revenge. I will let go of my desire for justice between the two of us. It is an act of will, manifested in action. That’s what it means “to forgive.” This is a divine warning to those who do not forgive, because they REFUSE to forgive. Let me tell you why it is a dangerous situation. Their lack of forgiveness stems not from weakness, but from an act of will. It is a choice. This is dangerous because such a refusal is a sign of a hardened heart. It is a sign of a person without faith.
Let’s take a look at a person who refuses to forgive. Why would someone refuse to forgive? Well, one reason people find it hard to forgive is because it is unnatural to forgive. Forgiveness is not a natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence: these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. Forgiveness is hard because it is not part of our human nature. However, as Christians, God has made us more than human animals. As Christians, when we realize how much sin God has forgiven in us, in gratefulness we should forgive others.
One might also ask; is it possible for someone to claim to be a Christian and still not forgive others? Our Gospel lesson gives just such an example. There are those “who know they have been forgiven” but still refuse to forgive others. Jesus tells a parable to illustrate this. In our parable, there was a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. You might say in our eyes this is equivalent to a person having borrowed a million dollars from a bank, say, to buy a house. The time for payment is due and the master wants his money. However, the servant is unable to pay. So, the master orders that the servant and his family and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. In modern terms the servant’s assets go into foreclosure. But the servant falls on his knees and says, “Be patient with me, I will pay back everything.” The servant's master has pity and lets him go. So that’s the first half of the story. It’s a story of compassion and mercy. But that is not the purpose of the parable. It has an entirely different purpose. In the second half of the parable, we have a total twist of story. We continue with verse 28.
The servant then goes out and finds one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred denarii. If 10 thousand talents is like a million dollars to us. A hundred denarii is like $100. So, the servant now meets up with someone who owes him $100. So, what does he do? He grabbed the fellow servant and begins to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” In a twist of fate, the servant finds himself in the same position as his master. He find his fellow servant at his knees. His fellow servant begs him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' the same words which the first servant said to his master. But in an unbelievable irony, he refuses. Though he himself was excused from owing a million dollars, he refuses to show mercy to someone who owed him 100 dollars. And he has the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. Now the other servants see this and they tell their master. The master called the evil servant in and punishes him for not showing mercy.
Now what’s the point of this parable? Jesus is telling this parable just after Peter has asked him How many times should I forgive my brother. This parable is Jesus’ answer. He wants the disciples to understand the true nature of forgiveness. In particular, the nature of the forgiveness which God is offering them. The parable asks the question. “Why would someone who knows they have been forgiven $1M, not be able to forgive someone who owed them $100? I would ask you to consider the following reason, the reason that the servant in Matt 18 “couldn’t forgive” is that he never really believed that he was forgiven the $1M, in the first place. So that $100 was still a big deal to him. Those who harbor unforgiveness, many times do so because they do not really believe, deep inside, they have been forgiven $1M worth of sin. Or worse they do not believe they needed $1M worth of forgiveness. As a result, even the small trespasses against them by other people, still bothers them.
Why would a supposed Christian ever believe that? Scripture tells us over and over that we are sinful and are in need of a savior. I would ask you to consider the following reason. Psychologically speaking we have two selves. The real self, the inner self, who is nothing but a sinner before God. and the outer self, the image we project to others. We rarely deal with the inner real self and mostly spend our time doing things to protect the image of the outer self that we project to others.
What is the problem? Many people see God’s forgiveness, only applied to the outer self. Sure, the Pastor can say I am forgiven but he has only seen the cool outer self. If he knew the real inner self, if he knew the real me, I don’t know that he would forgive me. It will be precisely because if they do not believe that their true self has received the $1M worth of forgiveness they will hold on to $100 sins. They will find it hard to forgive others for their $100 sins. The refusal to forgive others, is a sign of a person who does not have the faith to believe they are forgiven $1Mil by God. Don’t get me wrong…. Struggling with the idea is okay that’s just the weakness of the flesh. But the refusal to believe is a sign of unbelief. Why is it hard to sometimes forgive my brother? Because deep down inside, I do not believe that the true me is forgiven. Why is it so hard to forgive my brother? Because I have not fully experienced the depth of God’s forgiveness for me through Christ. It is only when I come face to face with my true inner self, it is only when I come face to face with my sinful self that I will be able to experience, in faith, the depth of God’s forgiveness. and in doing so, find the power to forgive others.
Facing your true inner self is scary. Facing the truth of your sinfulness, your weakness, your ugliness before God is depressing at best. But there is good news. God already knows the true you. God already knows your sinfulness, your weakness, your ugliness and he loves you. He sent his son Jesus to die for you, for the sins of the true you, for the failures of the true you. God already knows your real self. And know this…. that the true you has been forgiven all the sins which made you worthy of an eternity of Hell and damnation. Not only that but St. Paul tells us that all that we have suffered on Earth is incomparable to the glory of Heaven. Jesus has promised that there will be no tears in heaven. All injustices which we have suffered will be made right. This is the $1million which you have been given by God. For this reason, He has called you to forgive the petty $100 sins of the earth.
Forgiving is hard, but forgiving is important, not for the person you are forgiving, but for yourself. The word forgive actually means to “to let go”. When we do not forgive, we are burdened by all the bad things which people have ever done to us. But if we forgive. we let go of these burdens.
How do we let go?
Because we are God’s children, Jesus has given us a great way to get rid of them.
Ps 55:22 says Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
1Pe 5:6 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
As you come to the altar at worship, leave your burdens at His altar. God will take care of you. As you pray, drop all your unhappy thoughts, your angers all the things which were unfair, all the bad things that you are worrying about, drop them all at God’s altar and commend them to God. It is for this reason that the peace of God that we receive is tied closely to the forgiveness of God.
May God’s forgiveness and peace be upon you that you might share the same with others. Amen